Getting a Handle on the “New Normal” at Work

We will likely need to adapt to a new working normal as we get the word out that the doors are open and we are back in business. Here’s how yesterday’s pre-coronavirus workplace has transformed into the health-and-safety-awareness job environment of today.

Touch Becomes No Touch

In yesterday’s business environment, deals sealed with a handshake or pat on a colleague’s back were part of the norm. Today, with social distancing, touch free may become the order of the business day throughout the workplace.

Before. Turning on taps and flushing toilets with a lever or button


  • Touch-free faucets
  • Automatic paper towel dispensers or touchless hand dryers
  • Toilets with automatic flush valves
  • Touchless hand-sanitizing stations
  • Sanitary door openers (devices that allow doors to be opened with the foot, elbow, wrist or using a plastic sleeve)

A New Type of Face Time

At one time, showing your face at work was important, as was doing face time with your colleagues.

Today wearing a face mask has become acceptable in some work situations and mandatory in others. Businesses may consider educating themselves on what types of protections they need to provide employees, including personal protection equipment (PPE).

PPE may include the following:

  • Gloves
  • Masks or face coverings
  • Eye protection
  • Gowns
  • Aprons
  • Boots or closed-toe work shoes

Staying Together by Staying Apart

Before we used to show respect to colleagues by spending time with them at work and sometimes outside the office. Today we may want to show respect to our colleagues, customers, suppliers and others by keeping a safe distance.

Social distancing might consist of transforming the workplace into a “6-feet office,” maintaining this distance between all people at all times. Among the considerations are:

  • Do a thorough examination of the current workplace setup as far as safety and where improvements can be made.
  • Create traffic routing in the office that helps keep everyone safe.
  • Establish workstations 6 feet apart.
  • Separate open-plan offices with high partitions and, where needed, plexiglas shields.
  • Use crowd-control stanchions and partitions, and safety cone areas to keep people apart.
  • Designate and train an employee responsible for advising on social distancing measures.
  • Put in place clear rules of social distancing.

Changing the Way We Work Together

For many employees and employers alike, the transformations of the workforce have been disorienting and, in some cases, distressing. Many organizations have gone from working together in a physical building to working alone at home. Most recently, working again together may be conducted in a way that is at once familiar but quite a bit different.

The return to work in a physical building requires wise change management, so that everyone understands and can accept the value of the precautions being taken. Employers may consider communicating with employees before they return to work, outlining the new changes and the reasons for them, and perhaps give some virtual training in the new safety protocols.

Clear, frequent communication is key to getting everyone to understand that the differences from the old workplace are positive — to help keep everyone safer and allow colleagues to work together again in the same facility.

Considerations for the communications plan:

  •  How the organization is following government guidelines in keeping everyone safer.
  • Measures undertaken for the safety of returning employees.
  • Alternative commuting suggestions.
  • Information about new policies and practices.
  • Information about physical changes to the workplace (reallocation of desks, availability of meeting and common rooms, etc.)
  • Why certain people or groups were chosen to return to work (if not everyone has been).
Rethinking Open Floor Plans

Rethinking Open Floor Plans

Open office plans had gained popularity in pre-coronavirus workplaces. Now business may want  to find ways to break up office space and keep people apart. High partitions and Plexiglas shields could be part of this solution. The before scenario of working at common tables or shrinking the distance between work stations, may become work stations and desks that maintain the proper distance, with a separation barrier.

Other suggestions could be discouraging crowding, perhaps requesting, for example, that employees go from floor to floor using internal staircases and reduce elevator usage.

The workplace layouts enforcing safer distances can also be supported by controlled access measures to facilities. Some of these may include:

  • Controlling entry points, including deliveries
  • Reconfiguring gathering and lobby areas for social distancing
  • Communicating building protocols through signage and floor markings
  • Considering temperature screenings as people enter the premises
  • Providing sanitizer, wipes, and PPE as appropriate
  • Disabling touch screens

Making Common Areas Safer

At one time, workplaces were all about being built for function and productivity, now safety is expected to play an important role. So, for example, a small room used for meetings might need to be repurposed for a single-person’s use.

To this end, signage could play an important role to remind workers and visitors of safety measures. It could be placed in common areas promoting worker safety by emphasizing basic infection prevention measures, including posting hand-washing signs in restrooms. Signs (general signage, wall signs, floor signs) could be posted in building entrances and lobbies, telling people about coronavirus measures and policies, and be used as wayfinding measures, helping to guide people through safe routes in a workplace.

Some other precautions employers may want to take for common areas include:

  •  Providing clean hand washing facilities.
  • Offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers when regular facilities are not available.
  • Removing magazines and papers from receptions and common rooms.
  • Reminding staff not to share cups, plates or cutlery.
  • Making sure ventilation systems are working properly.

Dedicated to Cleanliness

While businesses used to be careful about cleanliness, now a fervent dedication to it may be necessary. Consider increasing the frequency and thoroughness of sanitizing measures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers its guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting facilities. Its recommendations include:

  • Cleaning with soap and water and then using a disinfectant
  • Practicing routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces
  • Putting wipeable covers over electronics when possible
  • Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting electronics

Prepare a plan of action if someone in the workplace contracts the coronavirus. Consider closing off certain areas in response until cleaning and disinfecting as recommended by the CDC can be performed.

The Rising Value of Virtual Meetings

The Rising Value of Virtual Meetings

If the space capacity of the meeting rooms is reduced in the workspace update, it will allow for social distancing. Even with meeting attendees physically in the building, not all may fit in the same meeting room space. Cloud-based peer-to-peer video conferencing software solutions will still be in demand.

With the ability to hold live meetings, share computer desktop presentations, and use other collaboration and communication tools, virtual teams have, in many cases, been able to conduct business as usual. This method will most likely continue in the future.

About the Author 

Peter Giffen is a writer and editor who specializes in business and technology.

Office Depot

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